When Bad Moms Get Book Deals
The Internet has seized upon the mortifying story told by Dara-Lynn Weiss, who put her 7-year-daughter Bea on what people are calling the "Tiger Mother" diet, and then wrote about it in Vogue magazine.
The Internet has seized upon the mortifying story told by Dara-Lynn Weiss, who put her 7-year-daughter Bea on what people are calling the "Tiger Mother" diet, and then wrote about it in Vogue magazine. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon, "It was a tale that involved putting Bea — who at 4-foot-4 and 93 pounds was veering toward childhood obesity — on an intense regimen of calorie restriction and public shaming"—for example, not giving her dinner after the child ate 800 calories of "Brie, filet mignon, baguette and chocolate” at school. As a result of a year of this treatment, Bea lost 16 pounds and also grew two inches, a happy story all around, until the years of resentment morph into time spent at an eating disorder clinic. But for now, it's a happy story because Weiss has a book deal on the merit of her oversharing (or anthropological parenthood reporting) in Vogue. "The new book, tentatively and appallingly called The Heavy," writes Williams, "will be published by Random House’s Ballantine imprint." Movie to follow, if all goes well, we assume.
But Weiss is certainly not the first to stand in the "bad mom/book deal" line with her hand out for six figures (we're speculating—at least five). Obviously, the most recent "star" in this genre is Ms. Amy Chua, Tiger Mom, herself. But before that, there was Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. Even as we write, there pops up yet another embarrassing all-too-forthright daughter-revealing mom getting our attention: Jennifer Coburn, who writes in amazingly cringeworthy fashion of her struggles with her 14-year-old daughter's breakup. Oh, this does not bode well for future relationships (mom's ability to cope with them, that is)! What it does bode well for, however, is a book deal for Coburn, who, yep, is currently working "on a memoir about her travels with her daughter."
This is the dark side of mom-sharing, and it seems to be happening all too frequently. As Williams writes:
So that’s how you get a book published, ladies. Just write an article about what a mean mommy you are, get a lot of sexy media attention and hate mail for it, and watch the bidding war commence! That way, we can be intergenerationally negative toward females — the “fat” little girls we put on diets, the daughters we call “garbage,” and the mothers who behave in such frosty, neurotic and controlling ways toward them. Want a bestseller? Try being a contemptible bitch. It’s a depressing way to sell books, and an even more depressing way to parent.
Of course, readers are complicit in this, too. Publishing companies and agents are looking for what will pique people's interests, and in 2012, that is frequently the same thing as what will piss people off. It's also what will make people feel better about themselves because as flawed as they are at being parents, someone else—someone who's written a book—turns out to be worse. It's a sort of contemporary, book-world type of schadenfreude informed by the Internet and its cycles of shame. But at the end of the day, it's the daughters, who don't have a choice about the story, and may not have a choice about it being published, who will suffer. These kids don't get to just close the book, set it on their bedside table, turn out the light, and go to sleep without a worry in their little heads.
Of course, moms have been finding ways to mortify their daughters for centuries, but generally, they've seen fit to keep those tales within the family, or at least the neighborhood. Times seem to have changed, however, which makes us wonder how many Mommie Dearests we can expect in, say, 20-some years, from all the resentful daughters who have been trotted out in their vulnerable, slightly overweight youths by publishing-savvy moms. Or maybe those girls are just scribbling all this stuff on Tumblrs, their own book deals immediately forthcoming, as we speak. I'd read that.